|The Endless Battle
For what turned out to be the next
eight years, mood swings in all their outrageous glory consumed my life.
In the beginning, buoyed by confidence that I had survived the earlier
episodes, I managed to cope. My moods changed rapidly. Prior
to my first hospitalization in 1990 I had an extreme hypomanic episode.
I felt I was on top of the world…nothing
and nobody could stop me, so insistent was my enthusiasm. I had so
many ideas and plans that I rarely had time to sleep, or eat for that matter.
I was driven creatively and intensified my creative outlet as a freelance
crochet designer to the point where I would work all day and crochet all
night. My designs sold! My editors called for more, and I was
more than willing to oblige. Nothing my friends or family said to
me about slowing down got through to me. I felt wonderful for the
first time in a long while. I was unable to recognize my irritability
and "bitchiness" when anyone tried to intrude on my new found joy or "prick
my balloon." Over time the mood intensified and I lost my sense
of judgement and became agitated. I lacked both concentration and
decision making skills.
Shopping and spending money became
a major part of my life. One day, I remember spying a beautiful sweater
in a department store…..just what I wanted and needed, and I had to have
it. The problem was it came in six colors, and I was completely unable
to decide which I wanted. I stood there for a bit, my mind in a fog,
then deliberately picked up one of each shade and went to the check out.
I still have those sweaters, by the way, and only one of them has ever
been worn. Somehow they don't appeal to me any longer. This
is just one example of my "overspending" in hypomania…there were many more.
Money was not a problem…cash or plastic…opening new charge accounts, getting
a loan…whatever I needed to do to achieve my goal was fair game.
For a person, normally responsible and quite frugal it was quite a rush!
Inevitably, in 1990, I crashed.
Nobody can remain at high levels without expecting the depression that
follows. Sunk deep in depression, I was hospitalized immediately.
Medication changes, rest and proper sleep and eating routines slowly brought
me out of it, and I returned to work immediately after being released.
The difference now was that I had the added stress of the credit card bills
coming in every month.
It was not over. Several times
in the next couple of years I was back in hospital, each episode seeming
worse than the last, and each giving me a sense of loss and hopelessness.
At the beginning of 1992 I became an integral part of a new Bipolar Disorder
Support Group opening in our city. (See my Article "Bipolar Support
Groups" for more on this). The involvement with others sharing the
disorder was for the most part a wonderful experience.
The process of the disorder was unending.
In a suicidal depression I was sent to a larger psychiatric hospital 500
miles from home for ECT (electroshock) treatments in July/August 1992.
After just a few treatments they were discontinued because of my extreme
reaction to them. ECT is a powerful treatment, and can (has) made
the difference between life and death for many individuals. Unfortunately,
it was not for me. I managed to convince the psychiatrist there that
my suicide thoughts had abated and returned home in August.
On October 1, my plans made, I made
the final decision to end my life. My husband and son were leaving
the house to take care of errands and would be gone for at least two hours.
As soon as they left I collected my huge amassed collection of psychiatric
drugs, and swallowed them by the handful, chasing them down with water.
I have no idea how many I took - hundreds for sure. I closed my eyes
and waited as the drowsiness overcame me.
Meanwhile, my husband was urging
my son to hurry home. He had a dreaded sense that something was terribly
wrong and was worried about fire or other calamity. When they arrived
they found me, semi-comatose. Between them, they got me into the
car and started for the hospital, then stopped part way to call an ambulance.
I died, literally, twice in the emergency
room of the hospital and was brought back to life. Once stabilized
I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, where I was intubated and put on
a kidney dialysis machine. I remained there, comatose and semi-comatose
for two weeks, before slowly making progress, and being transferred to
the psychiatric unit.
My mood was at its lowest possible
ebb. I refused to speak to anyone, including my doctor. I had
failed at the most important thing in my life…I was still alive…and would
have to do it all over again. I had completely given up hope.
Within a couple of weeks I began having trouble breathing. The problem
increased daily until I was unable to walk more than a few feet without
stopping to catch my breath. One night I was gasping for air and
unable to get any, and was rapidly taken to the emergency room. I
was transferred again to the Intensive Care Unit. The top half of
my right lung had collapsed and the lower part was filled with infectious
fluid. Emergency surgery was performed, and I was very ill.
Apparently I had inhaled something during my failed attempt that had festered
in my lung.
After time and many tests (some of
them very painful) and treatment by an inhalation therapist I was once
again transferred to the psychiatric unit. All in all this hospital
stay was to last three months. Although I slowly improved I never
completely recovered. One thing that kept me going was the support
group and my efforts to help others going through the same pain.
Especially Jeff, a bipolar who had become a close friend and companion….who
was going through his own hell. In 1994, Jeff reached the end of
his endurance and took his own life, an event that will be branded in my
In September 1995, my doctor, at
a loss to know what to do next, made arrangements for me to be admitted
to a provincial psychiatric hospital. I had heard of this place and
had all sorts of preconceived notions of palliative care, never being released
and fear. All groundless. I met a very special doctor there
who took an interest in my case. He treated not only my mind, but
my body. Through his efforts, I was sent to a large sleep lab for
testing, and it was discovered that there had been permanent damage to
my lung, and that I would require supplemental oxygen for the remainder
of my life. I was 45. Fortunately, I was able to produce enough
oxygen during the day when I was awake and moving, and required the use
of oxygen only while asleep.
He started me on a daily walking
program for exercise and counseled me on diet. I went on to lose
over one hundred pounds. (regretfully some of it has returned).
It was a turning point for me.
On my return home I worked on this
program, was assigned a case manager to "watch over me", saw a therapist
and continued the new medications the doctor had prescribed. The
oxygen made a tremendous difference. No longer was I sleeping most
of the day and all of the night. My mood lifted, thoughts of suicide
faded (though they never completely left me), and I slowly but surely progressed.
Over the next couple of years I improved.
I remained withdrawn, never returning to the sociable person I had once
been, but I found peace and contentment in my solitude.
A mixed episode in Jan/Feb 1998 was
my last hospitalization to date. Laughing and crying, manic and depressed,
haunted by voices telling me I was no good, a bad person who deserved only
to die all at he same time. A horrible experience and one I never
wish to repeat. Suicide again brushed its chilling fingers along
my spine as I was awakened very early one morning and moved into the hall.
Jenna, the girl in the bed beside me had taken her life. She had
lost her four year old daughter to an accident several months earlier and
her goal was to be with her again. She had told me the whole story.
Her death left me numb. Though
special support meetings were set up for those of us who were her friends,
I truly believe the patients had more understanding than the staff.
After all we had been there.
See my next article in this series,
"Twenty Years Later - Looking Back, Looking Ahead."